In his senior year of high school, Chester Crowder Jr., had a disagreement with a teacher of African American literature.
“After the cooling down, he brought me to the side for a one-on-one,” Crowder recalled. “I was 17 or 18 and he talked to me at a level where we could meet and took a moment to learn where I was coming from. I understood that he cared.”
The teacher, who was Crowder’s only African American instructor (outside of athletics) at his suburban Raleigh high school, inspired him.
“His taking the next generation more serious led me to take teaching more serious,” Crowder said.
Crowder attended Chowan University in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, for two years but his goal was always to attend North Carolina Central University (NCCU). While a teenager, his aunt and uncle, both graduates of NCCU, had taken him on tours of the NCCU campus. In January 2021, he transferred and began attending classes in the School of Education.
“They treat me as nothing but family,” Crowder said. “The opportunities they push at me, being on a phone call but not email basis, meeting their colleagues. They engage with you and want to see you do good in life and put you in a position to grow.”
In fall 2021, the Marathon Teaching Institute was founded at NCCU with the goal of increasing the number of African American male teachers in the United States. Only 2% of public-school teachers are African American males (NCES' National Teacher and Principal Survey, 2017-2018) compared to 8% of the student population.
Crowder was recruited to become part of the first cohort.
“It fit me greatly,” Crowder said. “It offered professional experience and meeting mentors.”
He attended talks by educational leaders, undertook professional development courses locally and in other states, received resume assistance, taught in Pittsburgh and was invited to network at dinners with the dean.
Being a student of the Marathon Teaching Institute also came with $20,000 from the Schmoock Family Opportunity Scholarship.
“It’s been a lifesaver,” Crowder said.
Crowder has shared his knowledge. He offered feedback on shaping the program and passed along what schools seek in teachers, said Quintin Murphy, director of the Marathon Teaching Institute
“He’s been like a big brother to other guys in the program who are freshmen and sophomores,” Quintin said.
For four years Crowder has taught after school daycare. He worked as a substitute in first to fifth grade from February to June 2023 and is currently doing student teaching. He has also tutored multiple students in Raleigh and Wake County.
Crowder has also served as an ambassador for the School of Education.
When he walks across the graduation stage this December, Crowder will be one of the first two students of the Marathon Teaching Institute to graduate from NCCU.
After graduation he plans to teach elementary education in Wake County and eventually obtain a leadership role in education.